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Oxo Good Grips Designers Take on Tablet Magazines


My last post about Smart Design's take on the "iPad" of 20 years ago mused about how people would use powerful tablet computers in the future. Lucky for us, that future is now. With the introduction of the iPad and the inevitable array of fast follower devices, we now have the opportunity to imagine and develop the applications that will bring these products to life. So what will we do with them? They're big for a phone handset (although that might be funny...hello!?) and pretty small for a TV. It's like the story of the Three Bears. As Goldilocks designers we need to find something that’s just right.

In a recent search to find that "just right," we looked at how traditional print media such as newspapers and magazines might be repurposed to play out in the iPad domain. The focus of the project was not so much about the technology as it was about the relationship people have with their favorite publications and how to fortify that connection in a digital world. Matt Barthelemy, our VP of Interaction Design explains Smart's strategy. —Tom Dair

Smart TabMag

To set the stage for this digital magazine experience concept, I want to give some background on how we set up the project and the foundational ideas that drove our work.

We gave ourselves a lot of real-world constraints at the outset; we looked at the current assets within the print versions of magazines and the workflow that is needed to produce them. Because today, the content developed for print media are in different formats than the content developed for interactive media. Magazines and newspapers aren't typically set up to produce motion assets; they typically deal with more static elements like photography and typography.

Our goal was to offer a new model for serving up an enhanced version of the familiar magazine experience, without requiring publishers to create or license video, or radically change their work process. Our challenge was to make those static assets more dynamic—to give magazine readers a compelling experience of that content on a touch-based tablet like the iPad. Part of our solution is the dynamic nature of how a person can move through the contents of a magazine within our model. Additionally, we used simple techniques to animate static imagery, without shooting video. While we think judiciously adding video assets makes a lot of sense, we did not want to rely on video as the way to create a dynamic and compelling experience.


What we are proposing is a new model for magazines in digital format, with the following advantages and features:

  • For the readers/subscribers: It's still engaging with familiar, valued, branded content but in an enhanced way that's more entertaining, easier, and hopefully more helpful—even the ads can be more valuable. The model supports content from any magazine title. Print magazines are all bound similarly and readers page through from front to back—it's the content inside that differentiates title from title—but the model of moving through and consuming the content is virtually identical.
  • For the publishers: It is new and more visually appealing, but keeps subscribers committed to the brands and writers they love. It's achievable, too. By respecting the limitations of what they currently do, it doesn't create a completely new work stream, nor does it require new assets.
  • For the advertisers: This format can create more consumer engagement with their ads, allowing the ads to live outside of the magazine which is a compelling reason to stay involved in magazine advertising and get excited about the new venue (with opportunity to learn lots of information about reader engagement, like how long the ads are viewed, which ads get acted upon, etc.) We know that ads are important for publishers' business model, and their survival.

Our team talked to a variety of colleagues, friends, and family members who are committed print magazine readers (men and women, subscribers and news stand purchasers of a variety of magazines.) We asked: What do they like about the magazine experience? Why do they subscribe? What's the arrival like? How is their engagement over the course of a week or month (for a monthly)? Do they tear out, copy, save, share, archive, or refer to back issues? What do they look for in every issue—regular features they like, writers they like, eye candy they like? How do people use the Web sites related to magazine brands?

We talked to a former Sunset magazine editor about:

  • The print magazine production process: Planning content, ad sales, feature/assets submission, editing, and sequencing
  • The relationship of ads to content: The more ads you sell in a month, the more content you can support and the fatter the issue—notice how most print magazines are thinner and thinner these days?
  • The importance of ads in the revenue model
  • The importance of subscribers, and of retaining subscribers every year at renewal time: How can publications verify to advertisers how many eyeballs their ads can reach?
  • The trends in publishing: While print readership might be shrinking, what are the keys to moving into a new way of thinking about magazine content and deliver?

For the iPad and other tablets, we knew the solution should take advantage of a tablet's ability to interact with information beyond what a print version can offer, to introduce subtle motion/animation without requiring additional video content, to remember things a reader wants to save, and to immediately search for, find, and jump to features in an issue. However, we decided not to take people out of the branded, "chosen" world of the magazine. People told us they choose to read a magazine so that they can immerse themselves in that content, in that familiar and valued experience. Linking out to other websites and videos would take people out of the experience, and perhaps lead them to not come back anytime soon.

Our team worked through our many ideas to distill a coherent model that respects the limitations we set to propose a new and efficient content publishing "container." We think this is a viable and compelling model for moving magazine content onto new touch-based tablets, and providing people with new immersive, engaging experiences with that content.

Take a look. We'd love to hear what other people think of the concept.

Matt Barthelemy is VP of Interaction Design for Smart Design.